In a rare display of bipartisan cooperation, the House of Representatives this week voted to name a post office in Bakersfield after country music legend Merle Haggard.
H.R. 1988, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), passed unanimously by voice vote to honor the man who innovated the “Bakersfield sound” of “honky tonks,” “longnecks” and steel guitars. Haggard, famous for the songs “Okie From Muskogee,” “Big City,” “Moma Tried” and for the theme from the 1970s TV series “Movin’ On,” died last year at age 79.
McCarthy took to the floor to speak about Haggard and the influence he made not only on country and western music, but American culture in general:
“Mr Speaker, you take a look back on American history. You can see figures standing tall who spoke for the everyday working man. Following the long tradition of Whitman and Twain, Merle Haggard was a man who knew America instinctively because he lived an American life. It wasn’t a life of the movies, but it was all the more compelling because it was all more real. This is the reason they called him the ‘Poet of the Common Man.’”
Haggard and his family were poor when they arrived in Bakersfield during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It was the height of the Great Depression and his family searched for opportunity in California. Growing up with little means and living a life of mistakes and regrets—including a stint at Folsom Prison where a concert by Johnny Cash inspired him to go into music—Haggard became one of the most sought-after artists in the music industry, eventually being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
McCarthy continued: “I hope when people pass by the Merle Haggard Post Office building in downtown Bakersfield, they will remember an icon of our community, an artist who never backed down, a man whose honesty about his own failings and willingness to pick himself back up inspired music that lifts our sprits and feeds our souls.”